Recently we set out to determine if the gift ladder we have been using in our Special Appeals is in fact doing its job: getting as many members as possible to become multi-gift donors and maximizing the amount of their gifts.
Specifically, we are looking for ways to increase response and income, but are concerned that too many members are downgrading their gifts. Although we realize that the weak economy is influencing smaller gift giving, we want to know if any of the suggested amounts are more compelling than others and we especially want to know how the donors are using the “Other” option; to go higher or lower?
Using actual recent giving data, we analyzed giving history to observe individual donor behavior instead simply of average gift in the aggregate. We got an insight into how mid-level donors behave differently that those at the basic level. And we were able to group certain behaviors together, thereby coming to some interesting conclusions.
In our standard ladder, there were four ascending gift options, with the fifth being an “Other” option. “Downgrading” was considered to mean making a gift below the “Ask1” amount, while “upgrading” meant giving anywhere above that amount.
Proving the premise that people will do what you tell them (much of the time), over a third of the responders chose to give the lowest suggested gift, or “Ask1” from the gift string. Of the responders who upgraded, two out of three chose the next higher amount or “Ask2.”
Unfortunately, 20% of the responders used the appeal to downgrade the size of their gift. And they went to the “Other” option to do it almost exclusively, which makes sense. In fact, 4 out of 5 responders who used the “Other” option used it to downgrade. This was especially true of the higher-level donors, half of whom downgraded by using the “Other” option.
Of the few who used the “Other” option to upgrade, nearly two-thirds gave somewhere in the range between Ask1 and Ask4 (again, doing what they were told). The remainder, clearly a wild bunch, used the “Other” option to give more than Ask4.
These results suggest new testing. For example, we need to work at reversing or reducing the tendency of members to use the “Other” option to downgrade. And we should find ways of either increasing the Ask1 and Ask2 gift options to take advantage of donors’ strong inclination to use them (perhaps using copy messages to encourage higher gifts in these categories) or lowering them because of the difficult economy.
The next step is to test our assumptions. For example, what would happen if the “Other” option didn’t exist at all, especially for those that had used it to downgrade? Should we add a lower gift option to the ladder to lessen the use of “Other” or make for its disappearance in an effort to force downgraders into a higher average gift of our choosing? In fact, where should the ask string begin – with last gift, with Current Year Renewal Amount, or some higher amount? Should we test the multiple percentage gift suggestions used by many fundraising professionals against a set table of gift options? Should the ladder be “flattened” – maybe the ascent is too steep? Finally, since the majority of donors use Ask1 or Ask2, should the string be simplified with fewer options?
Good direct response performance comes from meaningful testing. These ask string issues are being tested now and in upcoming campaigns. We will continue to test meaningful variables to our controls such as these and continue to share the results.